Liverpool Football Club is truly on its way to being crowned champions of England after 30 years. They’ve tasted 25 victories and 1 draw without defeat. This is truly remarkable considering the fact it’s in an era where Pep Guardiola is managing a football club in England in the form of Manchester City; who are currently 25 points behind the Anfield club.While City have so much world-class international players in Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Brunye, David Silva and co, Liverpool have had a team many regard as good system players. This then brings about the question; Is the system of a team important than individual talents? Looking at Jürgen Klopp’s team, there aren’t many world class players in it. Yet they find themselves 25 points clear off their closest title rivals. Is the system that important? LFC Transfer Room writer takes a look at the system and how successful it is under Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool as a club, is known to work as a unit on the field of play. They play in a 4-3-3 formation that consist of 3 forward players, 3 midfielders with the middle man the deepest of the three and a back four in front of the goal keeper. On paper, it looks very easy but looking deep, almost every player has a task to the system. Since Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona in 2018, they’ve lacked a standout creator in the midfield 3. They made up for his sale by improving the attacking output of their fullbacks in Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Last season, the pair produced a whopping 28 assists between them with Trent having 15 assists to his name alone. They made up for Coutinho’s creativity last season by becoming the main source of creativity in the team from the flank.
As both fullbacks create from the flank, Roberto Firmino acts as the link man in the middle from a false 9 position. His main job is to serve as a link man to the speedy duo of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah who run from the flank to zones he left open. he is already on 10 assists for the season. Now imagine Firmino in a more out and out striker role; he might struggle. To get the best out of him, he either plays as a false 9 or as a classic number 10 behind the striker. He is more of a system player. While the fullbacks attack, the flanking central midfielders act as shields for the space vacated by the fullbacks. When fit, the starting midfield 3 normally consist of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum. Henderson has covered a lot of ground when Alexander-Arnold moves forward. Same applies to Wijnaldum who covers for Robertson. Both midfielders are known for having high energy to run up and down to protect the spaces vacated by their respective fullbacks. They have their designated roles.
This is what makes Klopp tactically amazing. Phillipe Coutinho left and he found a way to make his system more effective by getting fullbacks who are in sync with the system demands. Liverpool don’t have players who are single handily performing far higher than the rest. They have players who know their roles in the team and perfect it to yield maximum results.
It’s virtually difficult to find players who you can clearly say are individually magnificent in this Liverpool side, except maybe Virgil van Dijk. In past Liverpool sides, you could pinpoint Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez as players who were magnificent and were called world class players above the rest. These players always made a clear difference wherever they played in the team. Luiz Suarez scored a remarkable 111 goals at Ajax, 82 goals at Liverpool and he’s currently on 191 goals at Barcelona. That clearly shows you a player who has a lot of brilliance in his game and has performed consistently in which ever side he has played in. You can call Robert Lewandoski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as clear examples of players who show individual brilliance wherever they go. They give quality displays and deliver consistently.
LEAVING THE SYSTEM
The thing about system players is when they leave a club for a bigger club, they completely leave the system they were excellent in and face the real acid test. Do they adapt and become better or, do they become just ordinary players in a bigger club? The two notable players who left Liverpool under Klopp were Emre Can and Phillipe Coutinho. These two were core players in Klopp’s team but left for bigger sides. Emre Can left for Juventus in 2018 and today, he’s playing for Borussia Dortmund as he couldn’t displace neither of Pjanic, Bentancur, Matuidi, Rabiot or an ageing Kedira in the Juventus engine room. It was so bad that he didn’t make the Juventus squad for the UCL group stage this season. He was clearly a system player at Liverpool under Klopp but left for a more demanding side in Juventus that require consistency. At Liverpool, he consistently improved his goals contribution each season (2 G/A in 2015, 4 G/A in 2016, 7 G/A in 2017 and 10 G/A in 2018). At Juventus, he had a total of just 5 G/A last season. He regressed.
Phillipe Coutinho was one many felt was genuinely world class. He was nearing world class level the season he left Liverpool (20 G/A in just half a season is amazing for a midfielder). He joins Barcelona in January 2018 and he becomes a completely different player than the one seen at Anfield. At Liverpool, he was the main man. At Barcelona, he became an ordinary player supporting Messi. He was stifled to the left wing in Ernesto Valverde’s 4-4-2 and it didn’t get the best out of him. In 54 games last season, he had just 11 goals but what was shocking was him having just 5 assists. Klopp warned him about leaving Liverpool as he was a key instrument in his team but like Can, he felt his time had come to an end at Anfield and left. Today he’s on loan to Bayern Munich and they are considering sending him back to Barcelona at the end of the season.
We’ve seen some players under Klopp leave and didn’t really perform/adapt at their new clubs such as Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Sahin and Mario Götze. All were key core components of Klopp’s title winning Dortmund sides between 2011 to 2013. They all left for bigger clubs but couldn’t perform on a consistent basis like in their ex-club nor could they adapt to tactical changes. In the end, all 3 came back to play for Dortmund later on in their respective careers. The system matters a lot.
SYSTEM v INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE
I’m of the opinion that a functional system overpowers individual brilliance. Last season in the UCL, Liverpool as a unit overturned a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona, to win 4-3 on aggregate and the rest is history. AS Roma did the same the previous season against Barcelona in 2018. They overturned a 4-1 deficit to win the tie by the away goals rule with a 4-4 aggregate score. Barcelona relied on Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance and it backfired as other than Messi, the other 10 players weren’t standing up to the occasion.
Another example of this Real Madrid’s Galacticos. They had so many individual stars in Luis Figo, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Zinedine Zidane but all six players didn’t win a La Liga nor UCL together as they relied more on their individual brilliance than working as a unit. Coupled with the fact they all had their egos as superstars, the Galacticos initiative was bound to fail due to players who were too individually brilliant and weren’t really ready to put a shift for each other. When a well drilled systematic side faces a side relying on individual brilliance, the systematic side most times comes out victorious.
Being a system player doesn’t mean you are bad as a player. It simply means that in a particular system, you are excellent. Majority of club sides have system players than individual players but choose to focus more attention on making the team work for those with individual brilliance. At Liverpool; Klopp, Edward and the rest of the transfer team look at players who can adapt and play according to the system Klopp plays. Players such as Fabinho, Keita, Robertson and Chamberlain were all bought with respect to the system the manager plays. They believed each player has a major role to play in the team. They gave them time and space to adapt to the manager’s demands for his system and we can all see the results.
The system in my view; is more important than individual brilliance. As a unit, you can overpower the brilliance of an individual player who is heavily relied upon by his team. The system is the key to success than just individual brilliance.